Our Sister Phoebe, a Deacon

Theological musings inspired by the Spirit and totally Ellen…

Archive for the month “June, 2012”

I Love my Family

This morning’s sermon.  I take as my text, Mark 3:20-35:

I’d like to add my thoughts to the homilist’s comment last week about spirituality replacing religion in twenty-first century lives and mindsets.  To my way of thinking, it doesn’t jive – this convenient and expedient idea that one doesn’t need religion, or a faith community to be spiritual or have spirituality.  To my way of thinking, it contravenes the Good News – and the Good News, the New Commandment especially – that we love one another as Christ loves us – is the reason we gather together as a family and a community, isn’t it?

Granted, our history shows there were and are people who distanced themselves from society in order to find a path to God and to fully understand the ministry and meaning of Christ, but when it comes down to it, were they really alone?  The exodus of Christians who fled the newly recognized and organized church of the fourth century to find beatitude in solitude after the ultimate witness of martyrdom was no longer necessary gave us monasticism – a way to find solitude in prayer and life away from the noisy distraction and temptations of life, and singularly focus on God. Monasteries were communities, however.  Those seeking to live a life of simplicity, privation and primarily solitude left civilization as we know it and found an oasis, or secluded valley, even an abandoned cemetery where they would not be disturbed. Yet those desert mothers and fathers weren’t secluded, because after time the Egyptian desert was scattered with Christians seeking solitude, or visited by Christians seeking counsel.

I don’t believe our friend and brother, our redeemer Jesus, gave himself in total love and obedience to God, and made the ultimate sacrifice, in order that we could find our ways separately and apart.

We are invited by Christ, we are called, each one of us, to walk in love throughout our neighborhoods, our lives, and live out the Gospel and to do it together.  We have as our model Jesus and the Apostles, who show us what the family of God is like.

We are with Jesus when he returns home to Nazareth.  He’s getting it from all sides again. He’s accused of being a creature of Satan and his family shows up where he’s preaching. Mark tells us that he’s come home and in the intervening time he’s attracted wide attention and a large following.  Perhaps he’s just sat down to eat the first meal in days, and is interrupted by the crowd descending on Nazareth and Mary’s doorstep.  When his family seeks to hold him back from addressing the detractors and the crowd they think he’s gone out of his mind.  It only gets worse when the remarks about Satan come up.  The family is probably wondering what’s gotten into their son and brother since the last time they saw him, and following behind the crowd to where Jesus has gone. When his mother and brothers seek him out, he says, “Who are my mother and my brothers?”

Ouch.  Now that has got to hurt.  This isn’t your blue-eyed, pretty boy Jesus smiling down at you from a nineteenth century lithograph and telling you don’t worry be happy; this is the Jesus telling you what exactly it means to be a disciple.  Now – before you start squirming, let me posit this: Jesus isn’t telling us to turn our backs on our families, because we know this text was written around the time the Temple was destroyed, and when it was quite dangerous to be a Christian.  The author of Mark is reminding his audience when one enters the baptismal covenant, we are not only born into a new life when we rise up out of the water, but we are received into the body of Christ. Not just the corporal, but the spiritual, born of faith.  To what he calls our attention is a broader dimension of relationships.  You have your father, mother, sisters and brothers, and extended biological family, but you are also part of a greater family that is called by faith in Christ.  The person who performs God’s will is the one, Jesus says, who is truly family to him.  Again, this pronouncement does not dissolve family loyalty but reminds us that devotion to God’s purpose for each of us should be at the top of our lists.  When we love God we love one another – our families and our friends.

I see all around me the body of Christ.  And this, I’m pretty sure was how he envisioned this new family of his.

Is this how you see it?  Or, did you wander about in a spiritual desert trying to figure things out on your own?  I know I did.

Growing up, I thought only good people went to church – and I felt I wasn’t good.  Why?  I didn’t like the way people looked at me when I was in church.  I felt they didn’t like me because I didn’t have the nicest clothes, didn’t have gloves and a hat. I didn’t like those people.  I didn’t know at the time it was pity they were throwing my way.  It was easier to pick up a bible and read, pour through Butler’s lives of saints, whisper my rosary in the dark when everyone else was asleep, and couldn’t hear me or ask questions.  I felt I didn’t need to go to church and sit with a bunch of strangers; what could they know about me or my belief except what they saw?  This was between God, the Angels, the Saints and me.  Oh yeah, Jesus, too.  One of my high school friends recently told me that she didn’t like organized religion because of the politics and the hypocrisy.  Guess what, neither do I, and many more people, and that’s a good reason to come together and change it so that it truly models and mirrors the Kingdom of Heaven where everyone is welcome and everyone is loved.

I eventually realized, and if you strayed off the path as I did, that being spiritual takes a long-term commitment; it takes preparation and it is by no means expedient.  It doesn’t get you to God any quicker than being a member of a faith community.  And you needed a community to guide and nurture, to share.  I’ve discovered that it is a component of this multi-faceted person of faith called a Christian.  There are days and moments when we get the message, and there are the other days.  But we may be assured that Christ is with us no matter what, and you and I are together in this.  I’ve seen it in right action by you, this very week.  How?  We come together every Sunday morning to hear our history, to give thanks and praise and, most importantly, to share the Agape, the love feast that is given to us when we encircle this table and take the bread and wine that is Christ. Then we go over to coffee hour, catch each other up – and we go home to what we call the real world.  What happens next?  One some days, we make sandwiches to share in the neighborhood, we show our love to a member of the community who has been in hospital, bringing meals and comfort, greetings from the parish.  We tend the garden that feeds the hungry, we welcome curious newcomers and invite them back, we share our physical buildings with the community, we model Christ and the Good News by small things that we do as a family.

Who are my mother and brothers?  They are everywhere I look.  And it makes me glad.


Deja Vu of the Nicest Kind

Last Sunday I started a new assignment for the Episcopal Church, diocese of California.  I’m now the parish deacon for Church of the Good Shepherd at 1823 Ninth Street in Berkeley, which is two blocks from my home.  While I was walking over Friday before last to tour the physical buildings and walk through the liturgy (church service), I got this wonderful feeling that I’d done this before.  Well, of course I have!  I’ve been a deacon for almost ten years and nine of it was spent at my sponsoring parish, St. Mark’s Berkeley, up by the University of California.  Good Shepherd is a small church, first organized in 1878 and it is on a tree-lined street in a neighborhood of West Berkeley – not the most affluent of places.   It’s a neighborhood I’ve lived in since my arrival in Berkeley in 1977.

The overwhelming sense of belonging and familiarity took over as I walked over and contentment washed over me.  I had to stop for a moment and then I started to cry.  These were tears of happiness because, even though the one place I’ve always felt at home was in a church, I truly felt for the first time that I was home and I fit.

I belonged.

The congregation is small, the vicar is a lovely woman I’ve known for ten years and has a quiet spirtuality that fits Good Shepherd, too.   One of my clergy colleagues told me in an e-mail that he thought Good Shepherd was a loving community.  It is!  It is active, vital and cares about the community around it.

Where I will fit is a work in progress.  I have ministries assigned to me, but I’m taking it slow and getting to know the people I’ll be ministring with and to before I start jumping in feet first into the areas that I’ve known for – social justice and advocacy, getting people to speak up about injustice and working for food programs that feed the hungry throughout the world, including the United States.

About that last part – someone asked if it wasn’t a conflict, writing legislators about changing policy or keeping it concerning the poor of America.  I do it as a concerned Christian and constituent.  I’m not telling people who to vote for or giving money to get a bill passed.  I’m inviting people to speak up and take a position that will benefit everyone – how they speak and to whom they speak is their choice.

Another question I get a lot is how I can be active in politics since I’m a clergywoman.

Well, the church began as a political movement.  The Sermon on the Mount isn’t so much a feel-good-about-your smug-self rally cry but a political agenda – a manifesto.  What Jesus of Nazareth told the crowds had never been told before and it turned the whole idea of how we are to live with one another and God a full 360 degrees.  In a patriarchal society people were told that everyone counted, everyone had a place at the table and in the Kingdom of Heaven.  They were told that love, not the romantic or physical love we all encounter, was the key – a mutual acceptance and respect for one another, treating one another as we would be treated.  The rich man in his palace and the poor man at its gate were equal in God’s eyes.

Nothing has changed in the 2,000 years since that was preached.  If anything, it is more relevant now with the constant attacks on some of us by certain people of certain beliefs.

This morning’s Gospel is Mark 3:20-35, when Jesus returns home to Nazareth and is confronted by the large crowds following him, his detractors, and his own family.  The scripture passage ends with Jesus asking just who his family might be.

Here’s a hint – anyone who does God’s will, i.e., living out the New Commandment to love another and take care of one another.  But that doesn’t negate the biological families we have – it asks us to expand our vision of what family should be.

So you see, I have my work cut out for me – and I believe you do, too.

Go in peace, dear ones!


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